Mobile
12/17/2013
03:20 PM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Android AV Improves But Still Can't Nuke Malware

Google doesn't let Android antivirus app makers automatically quarantine and zap malware. Until then it's up to users to stay on their toes to prevent infection.

Android Security: 8 Signs Hackers Own Your Smartphone
Android Security: 8 Signs Hackers Own Your Smartphone
(click image for larger view)

Good news: Antivirus and anti-malware scanners designed for the Android operating system continue to improve.

So says a new report, released this week by independent German testing lab AV-Test. The November and December study of 28 different Android antivirus tools found that the apps' ability to protect devices -- by detecting a representative set of more than 2,000 malicious apps discovered in the four weeks prior to the test -- reached an average success rate of 96.6%, up from 90.5% in September.

The tests evaluated the antivirus apps not only on the aforementioned "protection" front, but also looked at usability: the app's hit on battery life and processing speed, how much data it loaded in the background, and also whether it triggered false alerts when testers attempted to install 500 different clean apps via Google Play and third-party app stores. The tests also looked at a variety of app features with security implications, including any anti-theft technology, parental controls, encryption, call blocking, and backup capabilities.

[ What changes are in store for the Windows mobile operating system? Read Windows Phone 8.1: Sneak Peek. ]

The apps with the lowest protection scores were VIRUSfighter Android from SPAMfighter (42.3%) and Zoner (72.1%).

The apps that did the best were from Avast, Avira, ESET, Ikarus, Kaspersky, Kingsoft, Trend Micro, and TrustGo; they earned 100% on both the protection and usability fronts. Meanwhile, products from two vendors -- Antly and Symantec -- scored top marks on protection, but earned slightly lower marks for usability. Almost no products had false-positive problems on the app-installation front.

But what happens when an Android antivirus app detects a threat? Unlike Windows or Mac OS X antivirus products, most Android applications can't eliminate or even quarantine an infection -- they just alert the user. "The mobile security apps are all running in a sandbox, just like any other app," AV-Test CEO Andreas Marx told the Register. "Therefore, they are not able to remove malicious apps [on] their own."

Malicious apps can be automatically removed from the device, but that ability lies solely in the hands of Google and its Android app kill switch -- which, to date, the company has used sparingly -- or apps that are preinstalled by device manufacturers. Thus it stands to reason that an OEM or carrier could build in an antivirus product that has app-quarantining capabilities.

Why hasn't Google allowed all antivirus products to not just detect malicious apps, but then quarantine or delete them? A Google spokesman, reached via email, declined to comment about whether future versions of Android might be updated to enable these capabilities.

Android puts more of the malware-wrangling onus on users, Matthew Standard, threat intelligence director at HBGary, told us. "It puts a lot of emphasis on the user, and being aware," he said.

From a risk standpoint, that's not ideal for any consumer or business user who's not well versed in information security intricacies, and that's what many Android hackers are banking on. "The attackers are benefiting from a lack of education," Standard said. "It's easy for IT, because they see where it fails all the time: don't click on this link, or go to this website."

But non-technically-savvy users would arguably benefit from being able to "trust the technology to do the thinking for you," he said.

AV-Test's Marx argued that, while scans of what's already running on a device are useful, the best malware blocking starts before they get installed. "The on-installation check is the most important anti-malware feature."

IT is turbocharging BYOD, but mobile security practices lag behind the growing risk. Also in the Mobile Security issue of InformationWeek: These seven factors are shaping the future of identity as we transition to a digital world. (Free registration required.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Mathew
50%
50%
Mathew,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2013 | 6:08:47 AM
Re: Misinformed
Engineering rationales are fine, but some people will end up with malware on their system. So, given Android's mass adoption now, I think the Windows analogy is apt:

1) If your PC gets infected by a virus, do you want it to be quarantined?
2) If your Android tablet gets infected by a virus, do you want it to be quarantined?

I'd argue that the average consumer would answer "yes" to both questions. 

As you say, the malware threat is overstated. To add to that: Bigger-picture, Google -- or an AV vendor that it taps, or any OEM -- could build AV capabilties into Android. That way, you wouldn't have the risk of a third-party application escaping the sandbox. 
RupertC367
50%
50%
RupertC367,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2013 | 11:50:08 AM
Re: Misinformed
steveb2005 is bang on. Come on guys, stop with the scare-mongering.
steveb2005
100%
0%
steveb2005,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2013 | 9:57:24 AM
Misinformed
I'm tired of misinformed articles about Android security.  It makes sense not to allow any 3rd party application out of the sandbox, and there is no need to, despite the news hype.  Read up:

http://qz.com/131436/contrary-to-what-youve-heard-android-is-almost-impenetrable-to-malware/
PaulS681
50%
50%
PaulS681,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/17/2013 | 7:50:08 PM
Droid attacks
Sounds like a new Starwars movie. I guess that being alerted to malware is better than not being alerted but when is Google going to let these apps get rid of the malware? Or are they waiting to put out a google created app?
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Flash Poll
Current Issue
Cartoon
Containing Corporate Data on Mobile Devices
Containing Corporate Data on Mobile Devices
If you’re still focused on securing endpoints, you’ve got your work cut out for you. WiFi network provider iPass surveyed 1,600 mobile workers and found that the average US employee carries three devices -- a smartphone, a computer, and a tablet or e-reader -- with more than 80% of them doing work on personal devices.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-3341
Published: 2014-08-19
The SNMP module in Cisco NX-OS 7.0(3)N1(1) and earlier on Nexus 5000 and 6000 devices provides different error messages for invalid requests depending on whether the VLAN ID exists, which allows remote attackers to enumerate VLANs via a series of requests, aka Bug ID CSCup85616.

CVE-2014-3464
Published: 2014-08-19
The EJB invocation handler implementation in Red Hat JBossWS, as used in JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP) 6.2.0 and 6.3.0, does not properly enforce the method level restrictions for outbound messages, which allows remote authenticated users to access otherwise restricted JAX-WS handlers ...

CVE-2014-3472
Published: 2014-08-19
The isCallerInRole function in SimpleSecurityManager in JBoss Application Server (AS) 7, as used in Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (JBEAP) 6.3.0, does not properly check caller roles, which allows remote authenticated users to bypass access restrictions via unspecified vectors.

CVE-2014-3490
Published: 2014-08-19
RESTEasy 2.3.1 before 2.3.8.SP2 and 3.x before 3.0.9, as used in Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP) 6.3.0, does not disable external entities when the resteasy.document.expand.entity.references parameter is set to false, which allows remote attackers to read arbitrary files and have...

CVE-2014-3504
Published: 2014-08-19
The (1) serf_ssl_cert_issuer, (2) serf_ssl_cert_subject, and (3) serf_ssl_cert_certificate functions in Serf 0.2.0 through 1.3.x before 1.3.7 does not properly handle a NUL byte in a domain name in the subject's Common Name (CN) field of an X.509 certificate, which allows man-in-the-middle attackers...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Dark Reading continuing coverage of the Black Hat 2014 conference brings interviews and commentary to Dark Reading listeners.